For a long time, dining out has been linked with gatherings, events, and dates. However, nowadays, solo dining seems to be emerging as a trend, in which an individual chooses to dine alone at a restaurant. It entails the act of eating without any company or companionship from others.
Is this trend of eating alone becoming more popular due to changes in society and lifestyles?
In some cultures, such as South Korea and Japan, where communal dining is the norm, solo dining seems to be becoming more accepted as people shift towards valuing independence and self-care. In fact, Korea and Japan have specific terms for the culture of solo dining.
What is Honbap?
'Honbap' is a Korean term that refers to the act of eating alone. The term is a combination of two words – 'hon', meaning alone or by oneself, and 'bap', which translates to rice but is commonly used to refer to a meal in general.
In South Korea, communal dining and social interactions centred around food have a strong foundation in the culture. Throughout history, meals have served as an occasion for families and friends to come together and develop connections. However, as modern lifestyles and work patterns evolved, the practice of eating alone emerged.
According to an article on the South Korean website, Koreaboo.com, Honbap is a reflection of shifting societal dynamics, which include urbanisation, busy schedules, and the rise in single-person households. Due to work commitments, long commutes, or personal preferences, many individuals, especially those residing in cities, often find themselves dining alone.
Although more people are choosing to eat alone in Korea, there is still some social stigma attached to it, particularly among older generations who value traditional dining customs. Nevertheless, the younger generation is embracing solo dining as a way to practice self-care and enjoy some personal time. Honbap highlights the changing dynamics of Korean society. It's a place where traditional values meet modern lifestyles and personal preferences, the article adds.
According to a study by the Korea Health Promotion Institute, the reasons for dining alone differ based on age. Individuals in their twenties tend to prefer eating alone for the convenience of being able to choose their own meal and eating time. On the other hand, people in their thirties often dine alone due to the absence of a dining companion.
What is Bocchi Seki?
‘Bocchi Seki’ is a Japanese term that refers to a solitary seat or a single seat in public places like restaurants and cafes. The term ‘Bocchi’ means alone in Japanese, and ‘Seki’ translates to seat or place.
According to Hiragana times.com, Bocchi Seki is a dining option that caters to individuals who prefer to dine alone. These seats can be found in various locations to cater to solo customers or travellers, providing them with a comfortable and convenient space to enjoy their meal or journey without feeling self-conscious.
In Japanese culture, 'Bocchi Seki' reflects the acceptance of solo activities and the consideration for individuals who may want to enjoy their own company without the need for social interaction.
The restaurant industry is changing
As the number of solo diners grows, the culinary industry is adapting to meet their needs. In Korea and Japan, some restaurants even feature solo-friendly menus with smaller portions, prix-fixe options (a meal consisting of several courses served at a total fixed price), or shared plates to cater to individual diners.
Some UAE restaurants have also started offering engaging dining experience for single diners. We asked UAE diners about this trend and according to most of them, urbanisation, busy schedules, remote work, and the desire for personal time are contributing factors to the rise of solo dining.
Mayuko, a Japanese expat working as an airline crew member in Dubai, loves the experience of Bocchi Seki. While savouring her favourite ramen at Ichiryu Ramen House and speaking to Gulf News, she said, "I enjoy my alone time, and with ramen, I feel at home. Although I enjoy the company of my friends, it's always good to have some ‘me time’. When I was in New York, I experienced the famous Ichiran restaurant, which caters to solo dining. It is practical for individuals who desire to eat without waiting for a reservation or standing in a line, particularly when they are alone.”
An introvert’s dream
Atif Abdul Ahmed, a Pakistani expat born and raised in Dubai, expressed his love for Japanese cuisine. During his visit to the same restaurant, he noticed a sign that read Bocchi Seki and was intrigued, leading him to enter and discover it was the perfect spot for him. Being an introvert, he sometimes struggles with dining alone. Fortunately, the restaurant offers a space for solo diners, which is ideal for Ahmed.
Nicolai De Guzman, one of the owners and the designer of Ichiryu Ramen House in Dubai, shared his vision for Bocchi Seki. He wants the entire restaurant to cater to solo diners, creating an intimate and unique experience. De Guzman said that since the restaurant's opening, customers have been pleased with the concept of Bocchi Seki. Regular customers even travel from Abu Dhabi to enjoy the experience. De Guzman emphasised that the focus is solely on the food and the diner, creating a personal and enjoyable experience.
Since the restaurant's opening, customers have been pleased with the concept of Bocchi Seki. Regular customers even travel from Abu Dhabi to enjoy the experience.
Convenient and cheaper
Donghyun Kim, a Korean expat and university student in Canada visiting Dubai for the summer, added: "Honbap in Korea is different. There are pretty decent stores serving packed meals that are usually good quality at a lower price. Eating out at restaurants can be expensive, so many people choose to save money by eating at convenience stores. Additionally, with family members often working different shifts, it can be difficult to find time to eat together at a restaurant. These stores provide a quick and affordable option for grabbing a bite without breaking the bank."
Annie Chung, the owner of Hyu Korean restaurant in Dubai, told Gulf News, that ‘honbap’ is more of a matter of convenience than a cultural trend. Chung, whose restaurant also caters to solo diners, explained that many of her customers dine alone. “They simply enjoy the food and frequently return for more,” said Chung.
Honbap is more of a matter of convenience than a cultural trend.
Breaking the social stigma
For many, the thought of dining alone might trigger feelings of discomfort, awkwardness, or loneliness.
Chung added, "We must understand that the perception of solo dining as a social taboo is largely a misconception. In many cultures around the world, eating alone is seen as a way to reconnect with oneself, take a break from the demands of everyday life, and enjoy some much-needed solitude.
“Solo dining is a practice that can be empowering, as it challenges the notion that our happiness and satisfaction should depend on the presence of others. It's an opportunity to reflect, recharge, and savour the moment without the distractions of conversation or the need to cater to others' preferences. As a society, we should encourage and celebrate this form of self-care, recognising that dining alone doesn't mean being lonely but enjoying one's own company.”
Although it may seem intimidating at first, dining alone can be a wonderful way to enjoy solitude and appreciate your company. It can be a chance to take control of your dining experience and break free from social stigmas. Whether you're a seasoned solo diner or trying it for the first time, embracing solo dining can lead to mindful eating and quality time with yourself. So, next time you have the chance, don't hesitate to ask for a table for one.